Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Covenantal Corporate Worship: Part 2.1


In the Ancient Near East, covenants were often made by a great king (conqueror) and a lesser king, the vassal. According to these ancient treaties, the great king would promise protection and blessing to his vassal in exchange for his allegiance and obedience to the stipulations set forth in the covenant. The great king would use the resources and power of his kingdom to protect his vassal-kings from enemy kingdoms so long as they remained faithful to their covenant obligations and continued to bring the required tribute to the great king. The structure of a 2nd millennium B.C. covenant included the following: 1. Preamble (introduces king), 2. Historical Prologue (past relations reviewed), 3. Stipulations: general and specific, 4. Witnesses, 5. Sanctions: blessings and curses, and 6. Ratifying Oath Sign.

Old Testament (OT) worship is grounded in the historic, redemptive act of God: the Exodus. It is God’s paramount self-revelatory act of redemption, second only to the Incarnation. Israel’s identity as the people of God was rooted in their covenant with God, which he initiated and established though the Exodus at Sinai (Ex 20:1-20).(1) Of course, God’s self-revelation to Israel at Sinai was in continuity with his revelation to and meetings with the patriarchs, particularly his covenant with Abraham (Gen 12-15). God’s deliverance of Israel from the evil powers of Egypt marked the beginning of his covenant faithfulness to bless the nations through the multiplying of Abraham’s seed. Furthermore, the establishment of the Sinaitic Covenant signals the beginning of Old Covenant, corporate worship. It was through their cultic worship that they offered their tribute to their Deliverer-King, and the Exodus shaped and informed their liturgy. This was taught by Moses, expressed in the Psalms, and reiterated by the prophets. Therefore, OT worship originates in God acting on behalf of his people; it cannot be conjured up and defined by anyone but God. Acceptable worship, then, is Israel’s faithful response to, or continued expression of, their covenantal relationship with Yahweh that he initiated.

Robert Webber discerns from the Exodus the basic structural elements for a meeting between God and his people, most of which parallel the 2nd millennium B.C. covenant form: 1. The meeting was convened by God whereby he recounted his saving acts of the Exodus (preamble and historical prologue). 2. The people were arranged in a structure of responsibility. 3. The meeting between God and Israel was characterized by the proclamation of the Word (stipulations). 4. The people accepted the conditions of the covenant, thus signifying a subjective commitment to hear and to obey the Word (the blessing and cursing sanctions are in Lev 26 and Deut 27-28). 5. The meeting was climaxed by a dramatic symbol of ratification, a sealing of the agreement: “And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, "Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words”” (Ex 24:8). (2) Afterwards, Moses and the elders, representing Israel, offered sacrifices and ate a covenantal meal before Yahweh (Ex 24:3-8, 11). “The message of the chapter is clear: Israel could draw near to God in his holiness only because of his gracious initiative and provision.” (3) This underscores the importance of the Exodus event as the epicenter of the rest of OT worship and provides a grid to examine the rest of OT as well as New Testament worship.(4) The exile from the presence of God brought about by Adam and Eve’s sin, and experienced by the patriarchs, was (beginning to be) reversed by God’s dwelling presence in the midst of his people in the Tabernacle.

1. Because the primary focus of this paper deals with the corporate of the covenantal community, the primary focus is the Exodus onward. Edenic and patriarchal worship are only mentioned in brief. However, what must be emphasized is that since the Fall human beings have attempted to worship God on their own terms and by their own ability. For this reason, God revealed himself to Abraham and promised hope out of primordial history through the promise of the redemption that would come through his offspring.
2. Webber, Worship Old and New, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 20-21.
3. Peterson, 30.
4. Other significant covenants and covenant structures include: Adamic covenant (Gen 1-2); Noahic covenant (Gen 9:11-17); Abrahamic covenant (Gen 15:18); Davidic covenant (2 Sam 7:11); and the New Covenant (Jer 31:31).


corey thomas said...

i didn't want to be the first to comment. just letting you know that at least one of us is reading the series. can you give us something more practical now that you have laid the groundwork?

jason said...

Looking forward to reading some more posts from your paper. Corey I am with you in wanting to see some practical ways we can express this covenantal worship but I hope you enjoy the framework that Josh is establishing. The more we understand how God has established the covenantal relationship with us the richer and more expressive our worship will be able to be.

jason said...

Josh I would also like to hear some reflections you have on this now that you are going back through the paper in light of your meditation, worship in community and further development in study.

corey thomas said...

this may "jump the gun" a bit, but will you conclude that the NT church needs to find it's exodus in order to have deep, personal, meaningful worship? or, do we find our depths in the riches of the exodus of Israel? i mean, i don't really get excited about worshipping God recounting the history of Israel and the covenant He made with them. As important as it is to the bigger picture of God's plan of redemption what relevance does it have to the NT church? don't miss-read me here... i understand the relevance of OT history and the reasons why we have so much of it in Scripture, but what are the implications to the 21st century church and it's purposes now? what relevance does OT covenantal worship have to the New Covenant under Christ when so much of the old was a type fulfilled with Christ's coming?

Josh said...

Been busy this week. Just moved into our first house! Even have the morgtgage to prove it.

Glad to see you're keeping up with the paper. This is definitely an interesting way of reviewing a paper. Corey, I sympathize with you wanting to get practical, but I've barely laid down the groundwork.

Jason's right, we need to understand why and how the people of God gathered for corporate worship in the first place. After this, we can better understand both the continuities and discontinuities of corporate worship under the New Covenant. Christian corporate worship did not originate in a vacuum. We can only better understand how we are to worship God as a community when we understand how the Old Covenant Community worshipped.

I'll add some comments soon with some more recent insights.

Corey, good question about how the Exodus plays into the NT church. It sounds as though you are looking for a more immediate application for our investigation of Old Covenant worship. You're right, much of the OC worship was a type, fulfilled in Christ. The NT church must find it's redemption, meaning and purpose in the Final Exodus of Jesus the Christ. His death and resurrection have lead all who have come to faith in him out of Slavery and Bondage, out of Exile...yet we are still awaiting that final deliverance into the Promised Land. Our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:21), but we are still seeking that city which is to come (Heb 13:14).

We'll talk more about this next week, but for now, the foundation of OC corporate worship is more world-view oriented than pragmatic. Keep asking, in view of how God revealed himself and rescued Israel, how were they to respond to him? What terms did he set forth for them to engage with him? In what ways did he make this possible?

Only after asking those questions can we move on to NT corporate worship and the radical changes and fulfillment that Jesus inaugurated.

jason said...

Please put some pictures of the new house up when you get settled. Nicole and I are very happy for you.

I am looking for some resources for responsive readings that we can use in worship. Any suggestions?

Josh said...

THE WORSHIP SOURCE BOOK by Emily Brink and John Witvliet is the best resource. I use it every week for ever service I plan. It is a treasure chest! It has a 40 pg prologue giving biblical foundation for worship. Then it has about 300 pages of readings & prayers and responsive readings & prayers basically divided by the ancient 4-fold pattern of corporate worship. Plus it has another 300+ pages devoted to central themes of the Christian faith.

There's no other book that I know of that you could adapt into a traditionally non-liturgical church. You'll love it!


Also, you can also download a chapte here: http://www.calvin.edu/worship/pub/wrshp_srcbk.php